Francis Francis brew me away with the X2 (get it? "Brew me away"?? Sorry.)
Positive Product Points
Two group machine More than enough steam Dual functionality as conversation piece (!) Stands up to more expensive models
Negative Product Points
Gauges need some calibration / maintenance Clock is worthless accoutrement Warming tray....doesn't
(NOTE: THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE X2.) "Learn how to prime the pump" should be the mantra for this machine (or at least the one I purchased). This has been the only real complaint I can make about the X2. Worth the price because it makes an excellent, crema-laden, thick double, and micro-foams all the livelong day (no kidding -- you can remove tattoos and neutralize home radon with the quantity of foam it delivers). I've used any number of consumer and pro machines and this is the BEST VALUE one -- it provides aesthetics (important to my wife, who has an eye for it), consistently fine espresso, excellent response to regular cleaning, and, as I said, enough steam for a Pink Floyd concert. Go the extra mile for the two-group machine -- especially if you're pulling shots for more than one person in the morning. The time saved is not a trivial thing (we drink -- EACH OF US -- an 8-10 shot drink with a little microfoam EVERY MORNING. If this is not your case, you can probably go with a single group machine (the X1), but it's like laptop screen size: you'll never say: jeez, I wish I didn't have so much real estate!
Aabree was just okay. I bought a solis maestro from them at the same time, and they kicked some price points off the total, which was good. The maestro self-destructed, with no repair possible, and because it was after warranty they were not interested in my request for a discount on a replacement grinder (I bought a mini mazzer from WLL).
Three Month Followup
Since I wrote this review the X2 has performed less than average....right side cannot be primed nor does any water flow from the screen. Will have to dismantle and inspect to identify if it's airbound or if there is something wrong with the boiler or electrical components. But on the left side, still happy with the performance, and works great with the mazzer mini grinding the beans.
Francis Francis is not a first timer machine. If you 're not familiar with the subtleties of espresso making, you'd be better off with a simpler, single group machine. Espresso machines are, like wine, something that is an acquired taste, and the sophistication of the machine should be matched with the maturity of one's palate and experience with home-made espresso drinks.
This said, I would probably buy a two-group machine in the commercial range next. The X2 gets used pretty hard (20-24 shots per day, seven days a week) for a home model. The problems I've had would happen to any machine with that kind of use, with the probable exception of commercial grade equipment. But I'm at least a year or two away from that purchase, so in a year, I'll give you my lowdown on where the X2 stands.